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Why and How Should Entrepreneurs Make Businesses Sustainable 'As private players, we often focus on creating little pockets of excellence that could be taken by the next generation'

By Komal Nathani

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur Asia Pacific, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.


Has the term "sustainability" been swept aside by the companies today?

The 2017 Global Environment Outlook reveals that the environmental issues are affecting the world's six largest regions, which include Asia and the Pacific, West Asia, Pan-European region, North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Africa.

From companies like Pepsico, to Sterlite, incessant cases of big corporate companies on environmental damage has put the spotlight on making businesses sustainable across the world. Out of all the affected regions, incidentally, Asia Pacific makes for a bigger room to inculcate sustainability as it records a new low in the number of "sustainable businesses".

In the most basic sense, sustainability is a set of values that every company should inculcate in their organization for a better tomorrow.

A 2017 KPMG report highlights a steady rise since 1993 in the percentage of companies with CSR reports. The reports state that the survey of CSR reporting started with 12% and after 20 years it has risen to 71%. But are these numbers reflecting the work of companies on ground?

The Need for Sustainable Business Environment

Sapna Bhawnani, communications & CSR director, Alstom India and South Asia, which is headquartered in Saint-Ouen, France, says that today being socially responsible is the biggest need of the business ecosystem across the world. Every genre of the company needs to work in a sustainable manner as we are building this ecosystem for our generations to follow, and not just for us.

The French multinational company operates worldwide in the rail transport market. In the Asia Pacific region, the company is operating in 12 countries, which include India, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam etc. The company has built metros in Indian cities like Kochi, Lucknow and Mumbai.

Alstom also has its own foundation, which is known as Alstom Foundation. It pilots projects and ties up with other NGOs to spearhead key initiatives for society.

In India, it is working around education and self-reliance programmes, especially for women. In Tamil Nadu, Alstom Foundation will work with the NGO SEVAI (Society for Education, Village action and Improvement) to set up 600 Self-Help groups to empower 8,400 women who are living below the poverty line, says the company.

How should companies choose the cause to work upon? Bhawnani says, "It depends on the region you want to cater to. The common problem largely in East Asia is related to access to education. We are working on it.

"Whether it's through the foundation or the company initiatives, we have a policy in place to involve our employees in CSR," says Bhawnani.

Cargill, an American company that is specialized in agriculture production contributes to animal nutrition, farmers and their families through its CSR initiatives across the region.

The company has a presence in 16 Asian countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, India, China, and the Philippines. It recently opened its first poultry processing operations in Indonesia and the Philippines to meet the region's growing demand for protein-based foods.

Dipanwita Chakraborty, corporate affairs, Cargill, says "More than 80 per cent hold of farmers live in the Asia Pacific, and out of them most of them are victims of malnutrition.

She adds that we see that we have a big role in APAC market. We asked ourselves that why we should restrict ourselves to farmers. "We observed that we can do much more than that. Then, we looked at the issues of wives and families of farmers. That's how you should. We realized that we are not doing anything beneficial for them," says Chakraborty.

"As private players, we often focus on creating little pockets of excellence that could be taken by the next generation," she adds.

So How do Organizations Get Started on It?

Here's a quick look at what should you remember when implementing CSR.

  • It needs to be nicely dovetailed. You need to see according to every region that what citizens need. More iterative the discussions are on CSR, the better you serve to citizens and the environment. Each company individually has to decide to address the key points according to the society.

  • The intention has to be right. Then you put your attention to it and then come the accountability. Then comes empowerment, you need to make your existing strategy. That has to happen somewhere. We all should learn from each other and bring ideas to the table for making difference. Every company has different resources; it should come in use for the better ecosystem.

Komal Nathani

Former Correspondent, Entrepreneur Asia Pacific

A firm believer of hard work and patience. Love to cover stories that hold a potential to change the momentum of business world. Currently, a part of all-women web team of Entrepreneur’s Asia Pacific edition to jig the wheel of business journalism!

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